Thursday, July 20, 2017

The American Experiment - Unique and Improbable

Only half of the Mayflower’s passengers and crew survived
 to see their first New England spring.

Squanto taught the Pilgrims, weakened by malnutrition and
illness, how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees,
catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants.  He
helped forge an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local
tribe, which would endure for more than 50 years
and tragically remains one of the sole examples
of harmony between European colonists and
 Native Americans.
In early America, we'd had enough of empires and oppression, and in the new land we saw a doorway to liberty.  We imagined a life far away from kings and their appointees where we could live and plant and harvest, where we could be a community that wasn't ruled by an elite who caged us and lived like leeches off our labor.  That was our hope, anyway.

Too, there were many who came to the new world who'd had enough of religious rule.  That hierarchy had merged with national governments and ruled with a heavy hand.  The brilliant light of God's grace had been pushed back behind ancient walls of stone, so His followers left as pilgrims, as refugees, fleeing to a new life in a new land.  That was our hope, too.

The American experiment - it was an attempt to merge it all into a new nation conceived in liberty, and dedicated to equality.  That's why we've fought so hard for so long, that this nation, under God, would be free, and that government would be of, by, and for the people.

For God and country.  We hoped those two would merge into a place of peace, justice, and a good life for us and our children.  The years have been filled with a tension, however, that continues unresolved.
"Augustine is suspicious of the kingdom of man because it is ultimately an endeavor by fallen humans to dominate and conquer one another, as Scripture shows we are wont to do. 
Yet it is difficult to miss the virtue in the American experiment – a father at last knowing the joy and dignity of self-employment, an immigrant settling into a safe neighborhood where her children attend a good school, a sharecropper’s grandson earning his graduate degree. I suspect I am not alone in the ability to rattle off such stories with ease. I suspect that many brothers and sisters in Christ also join me in finding much to admire in the courage and tenacity of General Washington’s citizen soldiers as they froze at Valley Forge or in Rosa Parks’s firm stand against segregation on a Montgomery bus, or in the text of the Declaration of Independence or other founding documents. 
But to a citizen, these are more than just stories. In the same way that the gospels manifest the values of the Kingdom of God to its citizens, these stories carry the values of an American citizen, of a patriot."   ~ Albert Gustafson
For good and for ill, every nation presents its citizens with a set of stories, but not every story is noble.  
Remembered less often, from Manifest Destiny and the Trail of Tears to Abolition and the Civil War, the ideology of racial dominance was as common in the pulpit as it was in Congress and the press.  We were repeatedly told our superiority was real.

Today, conservative and liberal agendas are similarly politicized, weaponized rather than resolved.  Much remains in our national thinking that falls far short of what is good and right.  

We would not expect a ravenous Wall Street player to be thoughtfully focused on the needs of individuals at the bottom of the ladder. Similarly, we cannot expect nations focused on financial dominance, as most are today, to do anything but strive for economic advantage at every level, within and across borders and with little regard for collateral damage.   

It's perhaps delusional to expect a nation to be uncorrupted by power and wealth, and it is equally naive to expect ethical objectivity in the stories it offers.  If we find ourselves agreeing with the commercial news media, the political headline, the simplistic statements of politicians, chances are we're parroting the ideology rather than the principles.  That's the kingdom of mankind.
There is indeed a light that shines, a nobility of heart and life that rises far above such things. An example, we're told, is perhaps most visible in the openness and acceptance of little children.  There's more beyond that simple beginning, of course, but we should remember that a life shaped by wealth, where achievement is defined by having and winning, such a life lacks most if not all that's offered by our Father.  

None remain unaffected.  But our goal is visible, and though the way crosses hostile territory, it can be reached.

Furious Freedom, there's more to the story.
Issues: family, equality, discrimination, favoritism, influence by wealth, corruption, abusive labor practices, fair trade, poverty, fair wages, opportunity, affordable and quality education, healthcare, crime and incarceration, refugees, immigrants, the finance industry, the GAP, propaganda and polarization, extractive economics, human ecological and environmental impact, materialism, corporate greed, globalization, the sanctity of life, ... more?

Values: truth, fairness, a place for all, freedom from harmful government and businesses, ethical clarity ... more?

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